Monthly Archive for October, 2016

Ling-Tea, 11/4 – Francisco Torreira

Join us this week for Ling-Tea at its regular time, 12–1 in room 117.

Speaker: Francisco Torreira
Title: “Melodic constructions in Spanish and their implication for intonational phonology”


In this presentation I will explore the structure of intonation, arguing for the existence of melodic constructions, which I define as meaningful sequences of tonal targets with association properties that may be melody-specific and dependent on the metrical structure utterance. Following a qualitative description of several melodic constructions in English, Catalan, and Spanish, I provide data from two imitation-and-completion experiments, each carried out on a Spanish melodic construction: the low-rise-fall and the circumflex contour. I show that a high tonal target in each of these melodies is realized either at the right edge of the phrase (i.e. with a delimitative function) in phrases of one prosodic word (e.g. Manolo), or on a stressed syllable (i.e. with a culminative function) in longer phrases (e.g. El hermano de Manolo ‘Manolo’s brother’). To account for this alternation in contour shape, I argue for a stricter separation between tonal targets and metrical structure in intonational phonology, allowing melodic constructions in the intonational lexicon-grammar of a language to have tonal targets without an intrinsic culminative function (i.e. as pitch accents)  or delimitative function (i.e. as edge tones). More generally, the data support the existence of meaningful intonational units larger than those traditionally discussed in the intonational phonology literature (e.g. pitch accents, edge tones, prenuclear and nuclear contours).”

WORDS Group, 11/4

The WORDS Group will be meeting on Friday 4th November, at McGill (room tba) at 1-2.30pm. Half of the session will comprise two practice talks for the upcoming Mo-MOT, given by Laura Grestenberger (Concordia University) and Chris Mauro (UQAM), while the second half will continue the discussion of Smith el al. (2016): Case and Number Suppletion in Pronouns.

Everyone is welcome to attend!

Colloquium, 11/4 – Judith Degen

Please join us for the next colloquium in our fall colloquium series.

Speaker:  Judith Degen (Stanford University)
Date & Time: November 4th at 3:30 pm
Place:  Education Bldg. rm. 433
Title:  Beyond “overinformativeness”: rationally redundant referring expressions

Abstract: What guides the choice of a referring expression like “the box”, “the big box”, or “the big red box”? Speakers have a well-documented tendency to add redundant modifiers in referring expressions (e.g., “the big red box” when “the big box” would suffice for uniquely picking out the intended object). This “overinformativeness” poses a challenge for theories of language production, especially those positing rational language use (e.g., in the Gricean tradition). We present a novel production model of referring expressions in the Rational Speech Act framework. Speakers are modeled as rationally trading off the cost of additional modifiers with the amount of information added about the intended referent. The innovation is assuming that truth functions are probabilistic rather than deterministic.

This model captures a number of production phenomena in the realm of overinformativeness, including the color-size asymmetry in probability of overmodification (speakers overmodify more with color than size adjectives); visual scene variation effects on probability of overmodification (increased visual scene variation increases the probability of overmodifying with color); and color typicality effects on probability of overmodification (speakers overmodify less with more typical colors). In addition to demonstrating how the model accounts for these qualitative effects, we present fine-grained quantitative predictions that are beautifully borne out in data from interactive free production reference game experiments.

We conclude that the systematicity with which speakers redundantly use modifiers implicates a system geared towards communicative efficiency rather than towards wasteful overinformativeness.

Jessica Coon in Language and Linguistics Compass

A special “Mayan Linguistics” issue of Language and Linguistics Compass has just been published. The volume includes an “Introduction to Mayan Linguistics”, co-authored by Ryan Bennett, Jessica Coon, and former McGill post-doc Robert Henderson, as well as an article on “Mayan Morphosyntax” by Coon.

Michael Wagner in Tromsø

Michael Wagner recently returned from giving an invited lecture at the Workshop on Hierarchical Structures in Phonology, Morphology and Syntax which took place October 27–38th at UiT in Tromsø, Norway.
The title of his talk was: “Allophonic variation and the locality of production planning”, which reported on joint work with Meghan Clayards, Oriana Kilbourn-Ceron, Morgan Sonderegger and James Tanner.  The abstract can be found here.

WORDS Group, 10/28

The WORDS Group will be meeting on Friday 28th October at McGill University (room tba). We will be discussing the following paper:

Smith et al. (2016). Case and Number Suppletion in Pronouns. Lingbuzz.

Everyone is welcome to attend!

Colloquium, 10/28 – Yvan Rose

We are pleased to announce the second talk in our 2016-2017 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series will be given by Yvan Rose (Memorial University Newfoundland). For more information on upcoming events in the McGill Linguistics department, please see our website (

Who: Yvan Rose

When: Friday 10/28 at 3:30pm

Where: Education room 433

Title: “Perceptual-Articulatory Relationships in Phonological Development: Implications for Feature Theory”


In this presentation, I discuss a series of asymmetries in phonological development, the nature of which is difficult to address from a strictly phonological perspective. In particular, I focus on transitional periods between developmental stages. I show that these transitions are best interpreted in terms of phonological categories at both prosodic and segmental levels of representation, including segmental features. Using computer-assisted methods of data classification, I describe the detail of these transitions, highlighting both perceptual and articulatory pressures on the child’s developing system of phonological representation. I discuss implications of these findings for Phonological Theory, in particular for traditional models of segmental representation relying on phonological features. While the data support the need for sub-segmental units of phonological representation, these units do not appear to match fully the set of features typically used in the analysis of adult phonological systems.

McGill at AMP 2016

McGill’s linguistis attended the 2016 Annual Meeting on Phonology, which was hosted at the University of Southern California on October 21-23. The presentations given by present McGill affiliates were the following:

  • Oriana Kilbourn-CeronSpeech production planning affects variability in connected speech
  • Guilherme Garcia, Heather Goad & Natália Brambatti GuzzoFooting is not always about stress: formalizing variable high vowel deletion in Québec French
  • Guilherme GarciaGrammar trumps lexicon: Typologically inconsistent weight effects are not generalized
  • Peter Milne & Jeffrey LamontagneCanadian French high-vowel laxing: A corpus study using automated discrimination

The program can be viewed here. Present and former McGill affiliates gathered for a photo at the conference:



Kie Zuraw, Anne-Michelle Tessier, Oriana Kilbourn-Ceron,
Erin Olson, Sharon Rose, Guilherme Garcia, Natália Brambatti
Guzzo, Jeffrey Lamontagne

Semantics Research Group, 10/21

The Semantics Research Group will meet this Friday the 21st at 3pm in room 117 to discuss Judith Degen’s recent paper in Semantics & Pragmatics in preparation for her upcoming visit to McGill on October 4th. All are welcome to attend.

WORDS Group, 10/21

The WORDS Group will be meeting on Friday 21st October, at UQAM (room and time tba). This week’s meeting is dedicated to student presentations:

Ievgeniia Kybalchych (UQAM): “The trimorphemic structure of Japanese deictic expressions within a two-dimensional reference system.”

Jurij Bozic: “Two Loci of Morphological Neutralization.”

Remaning presenters are tba.

Everyone is welcome to attend!

McGill at NELS 47

McGill linguists presented at the 47th Annual Meeting of North East Linguistic Society (NELS 47), which was hosted at the University of Massachusetts Amherst October 14–16. Presentations by current McGill affiliates included:

McGill affiliates of past and present gathered for a photo at the dinner:

Gui Garcia, Laura Kalin, Michael Wagner, Jessica Coon, Aron Hirsch, Cora Lesure, Bernhard Schwarz, Hadas Kotek

Gui Garcia, Laura Kalin, Michael Wagner, Jessica Coon, Aron Hirsch, Cora Lesure, Bernhard Schwarz, Hadas Kotek

LingTea, 10/13 – Nico Baier

In this week’s LingTea, on Thursday (Oct. 13th) 12-1pm in room 117, a talk will be given by Nico Baier (UC Berkeley). Title and abstract are below.

Unifying Anti-Agreement and Wh-Agreement
In many languages, φ-agreement is sensitive to the A’-movement of its controller. Some languages, such as Abaza, exhibit ‘wh-agreement’, an effect in which dedicated agreement morphology cross-references extracted arguments (Chung and Georgopoulos 1988). In other languages, such as Tarifit Berber, extracted arguments cannot control full agreement. This is known as ‘anti-agreement’ (Ouhalla 1993). These two effects have previously been treated as distinct. Wh-agreement is viewed as normal result of Agree with a goal bearing a wh-feature (Georgopoulos 1991, Watanabe 1996, a.o.). Anti-agreement is generally taken to reflect a disruption of agreement in the syntax proper (Schneider-Zioga 2007, Ouhalla 1993, a.o.). In this paper, I argue that this traditional wisdom is incorrect and that wh-agreement and anti-agreement are in fact two instantiations of the same phenomenon. Both effects are the result of a φ-probe copying both φ- and wh-features from a goal. Patterns of anti-agreement and wh-agreement arise when partial or total impoverishment applies to the [φ+wh] feature bundle in the morphological component, blocking insertion of an otherwise appropriate, more highly specified agreement exponent.

Mah, Goad, Steinhauer in Frontiers in Psychology

Jen Mah (PhD 2011), Heather Goad and Karsten Steinhauer’s paper ‘Using event-related brain brain potentials to assess perceptibility: The case of French speakers and English [h]’ will appear shortly in Frontiers in Psychology.  Congratulations!

Ergativity/Fieldwork Lab Weekly Meeting, 10/3 – Mikael Vinka

The Ergativity/Fieldwork Lab will be meeting on Monday, 10/3, from 12-1 in room 002. Mikael Vinka will be presenting on Saami.


This presentation will bring up two themes. On the one hand, when working with an endangered indigenous language like South Saami, it is not uncommon to encounter disparities in grammaticality judgments among L1 speakers. At least some of these inconsistencies are probably best viewed as heritage speaker effects. I will illustrate the issue with data on VP anaphora in South Saami.

The second theme deals with training L1 speaking elders in language documentation. The elders have mastered transcription programs such as ELAN and PRAAT. 45 audio transcription of spoken South Saami are published at, as a result of efforts in the local community.

LingTea, 10/6 – Coon, Keine & Wagner / Garcia

In this week’s LingTea, on Thursday (Oct. 6th) 12-1pm in room 117, two groups of presenters will give talks in preparaton for the upcoming NELS conference. Jessica Coon and Michael Wagner will present their collaborative work with Stefan Keine (USC) on the Hierarchy effects in German copula constructions: The PCC corner of German“. The abstract can be found here.

Guilherme Garcia will present his work with the title “Grammar trumps lexicon: Typologically inconsistent weight effects are not generalized“. The abstract can be found here.

Semantics Research Group, 10/7

This Friday the 7th, the semantics research group will meet at 3 in room 117. Vincent Rouillard and Bernhard Schwarz will present on structurally defined alternatives and Maximize Presupposition in preparation for their upcoming NELS talk. Short abstract and recommended reading below. The reading has been added to the dropbox folder, and is also available through the library. All are welcome to attend!

Structurally defined alternatives and epistemic narrowing in Maximize Presupposition

We will investigate the application of Katzir’s (2007) notion of structurally defined alternatives to Heim’s (1991) Maximize Presupposition principle and the so-called antipresuppositions it gives rise to. In this investigation, we encounter a phenomenon that we call epistemic narrowing, where an antipresupposition turns into an inference about the speaker’s beliefs rather than common belief.  Following Chemla (2008), we take epistemic narrowing to result from a hearer’s reasoning about presupposition accommodation. But we also conclude that epistemic narrowing is less prevalent than Chemla’s account seems to predict, and we attempt to delineate the actual conditions that epistemic narrowing is subject to.

Recommended reading: Chemla, Emmanuel. 2008. An epistemic step for anti-presuppositions. Journal of Semantics 25:141–173.

WORDS Group, 10/7

The WORDS Group will be meeting on Friday 7th October, at UQAM (room tba). Heather Newell (UQAM) will present on her joint work with Markus Pöchtrager (Boǧaziçi University) with the title “An underlying (s)ɪ(n): the morpho-phonology of Turkish possessive constructions“.

Everyone is welcome to attend!

Bang, Clayards & Goad in Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research

Hye-Young Bang‘s paper “Compensatory Strategies in the Developmental Patterns of English /s/: Gender and Vowel Context Effects” has been accepted for publication at Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research.  This article is co-authored with Meghan Clayards and Heather Goad.

Two Talks by Mats Rooth and Dorit Abusch on October 11

Mats Rooth and Dorit Abusch will give two semantics taks on Tuesday October 11th (from 12:30 to 2:30 in room 002.) The title of the talks are:
Dorit Abusch, “A dynamic semantics for indexing in pictorial narratives.”
Mats Rooth, “Picture descriptions, centered content, and finite state intensional semantics.”
Everybody is invited.

Jessica Coon in Arezzo

Jessica Coon is just returning from Arezzo, Italy, where she gave an invited talk at the workshop: “What’s in a Label?”. The title of her presentation was “What’s in Pred? Functional categories and the parameterization of predication.’

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